Restaurants in New York were cleared Tuesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to drop any restrictions that were still in place to combat the spread of COVID-19, effectively marking an end to the crisis for the industry’s fourth largest market.
The unscheduled move came on the same day that nearly all safety requirements were similarly lifted in California, the nation’s largest restaurant market.
With those two industry strongholds lifting restrictions, restaurants in only four states—Oregon, Michigan, Washington and New Mexico—are still operating under emergency safety protocols. Washington has set a target date of June 30 to lift its limitations, and Michigan plans to drop any remaining requirements on July 1.
Oregon has pledged to end its crisis measures as soon as 70% of its population has been fully vaccinated, and New Mexico said it will give the all-clear signal when 60% of adults have received the inoculation.
New York restaurateurs have attested that the pandemic has been particularly bad for them because coronavirus spread so quickly and broadly early in the pandemic, when even basic supplies such as face masks, gloves or hand sanitizing gels were in short supply. The shortages were so severe that Cuomo directed the stater to begin production of its own hand-sanitizer brand.
Many of the state’s most renowned dining centers, including New York City, are populated largely by independent restaurants that lacked the deep pockets of chain-affiliated brands. Many shut down rather than attempt to eke out a revenue stream from takeout and delivery.
“This is great news for an industry that has been knocked down repeatedly over the last year plus and still has a long way to go to full recovery, but we can finally start to put this difficult period behind us,” the New York State Restaurant Association said in an alert posted on its website that Cuomo had dropped all restrictions.
Although the lifting of restrictions had not been scheduled, it had been expected. Cuomo had pledged to drop any remaining limitations once 70% of New York adults had been fully vaccinated. The tally was 69.9% at the end of Monday.
Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, was invited to join Cuomo on stage as he announced the end of restrictions.
“After 16 months of unprecedented devastation to New York’s restaurants, bars [and] clubs inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s monumental to join Gov. Cuomo and leaders from around New York at 1 World Trade Center to officially lift restrictions on businesses and begin a new phase of the city’s recovery,” Rigie said in a statement issued afterward. “This is a critically important step forward and remarkable day on a long road to recovery.”
In a note alerting members to Cuomo’s move, the Alliance added an aside that addressed the emotional impact of the governor’s announcement.
“At times, it felt like we would never get to where we are today, especially during our darkest times,” the association said. “While we have lost so much and struggled, we fought and supported each other, and we hope today’s incredibly important news provides a shot of optimism for the future of our industry and New York City.”
Cuomo's decision was effective immediately. The governor's office has pledged to provide explicit details on what restrictions may still apply to the general population—school children will still be required to wear masks, for instance.
The guidelines will also likely underscore that unvaccinated individuals are still encouraged to wear masks in public places such as a restaurant, but the staff will not be required to enforce that recommendation.
The Democratic governor had lifted capacity restrictions and most other limitations on restaurants on May 19, but establishments were still required to keep parties six feet apart, a stipulation that left many still operating at greatly reduced seating levels.